Saturday, December 23, 2006

sir bonio

That mealy mouthed, crap rocker Bono is to receive an honorary knighthood for his self serving 'humanitarian' campaigning. He, and his equally loathsome mate Geldof, have achieved nothing other than increasing the sales of their back catalogues, whilst cosying up to the politicians who facilitate corporate greed and the resultant poverty.

Surely a far more deserving nominee would be Bonio, that tasty nourishing biscuit enjoyed by dogs and small children alike.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Lock 'em up (revisited)

The Queen's Speech announced the introduction of a Bill to provide a better framework for treating people with mental disorders. The government are intent on reviving the previously axed and heavily criticised Mental Health Bill. It's the return of the thorny questions of diagnosis, compulsion and some rather dubious 'treatments.'

The current Mental Health Act (1983) enables specified professionals to treat people without their consent. The Government now wants to make changes to extend and simplify this process.

The Bill seems to be motivated and promoted by a prejudice that connects mental illness with violence and the need to protect the public. In fact 95% of all killings have no connection to people with mental illnesses. They are mostly the result of drugs and alcohol, but plans have not been proposed to affect the liberty of Friday night boozers. Instead a marginalised and stigmatised section of the population is being targetted.

Currently compulsory treatment can only occur in hospital. The government wants to extend this into the community. So called 'psychiatric ASBOs' will be enforced, the conditions of which may include residency, appointments, medication and 'conduct.' These conditions would not be subject to independent review.

This proposal to restrict the movement and activities of patients in the community has been condemned by mental health workers. Rethink's campaign manager, Jane Harris, said that curfews and banning visits to pubs were completely unworkable. Tony Zigmond, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, saw the enforcement or monitoring of the conditions being the main problem. He said, 'It's a monitoring exercise that doctors and nurses should not be doing.'

But the main problem is the lack of independent review.

The 1983 Act states that compulsory treatment must help a patient's condition, or prevent it getting worse, this is the treatability clause. The Government wishes to change this to allow treatment that is ‘appropriate’ and ‘available’ i.e. remove treatability as a criterion. The judgement of what is ‘appropriate’ is a subjective one rather than objective, and could include measures to control rather than cure. People with untreatable personality disorders could therefore be compulsorily detained whether they've committed a criminal act or not.

Health services exist to help people with their health, not to control them. Tony Calland, chairman of the British Medical Association's medical ethics committee said, 'Mental health legislation cannot be used to detain people whom the authorities simply want locked away.'

At the moment, two doctors and a social worker are required to make the decision to treat someone without their consent. This is by definition a position of considerable power and responsibility, where the control over another's life is taken. The government's intention is to empower a wider range of healthcare professionals to take these decisions. There is considerable concern that there are insufficient numbers of suitably trained and qualified people for this change to be made.

Treatment without consent can now only be given if a person has a ‘mental disorder’. Again the government wants to expand the definition of mental disorder. This, if used widely, could conceivably include immoral conduct, promiscuity, anti-social or eccentric behaviour and different political or cultural beliefs. Once detained and forcibly treated, that person must wait 6 months until they have a right to have their case reviewed by a Tribunal.

Sources of Information;

Dept. of Health:

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Farewell to Old Dunscroft

If you are anywhere in the vicinity next Sunday, get yourself to this, and give Dave Douglass the send off he deserves.

Farewell to Old Dunscroft.

Dave Douglass is leaving Dunscroft and the Doncaster coalfield after forty years.

A farewell to Donny and Old Dunscroft and the pit has been planned to take place at The Woolpack, Market Place, Doncaster on 26 November 2006 at 3:45 pm.

Neighbours, Marra's, friends and comrades from the union, the pit, politics and the community are welcome to attend the official bon voyage as Dave heads back to Bonny Tyneside for pastures new and revisited.

There will be a special showing of "Where Do I Stand ?", a TV Documentary about Dave and his politics made in 1970 and obviously before the age of 'political correctness' ! This documentary features Hatfield pit and the surrounding villages and some of the characters.

The acclaimed Rotherham folk band 'Toe-In'The Dark' with singer songwriter Ray Hearne will be appearing, as well as other guest singers who may volunteer.

Guests will be invited to join in and tell us some stories and tales and hopefully a buffet will be provided.

So don't forget!

The Woolpack, Market Place, Doncaster, from about 3:45 pm.26th November 2006. Formal programme finishes at 8 pm but folk are welcome to carry on.

All past grudges and disputes to be left at home please, and no riding horses up and down the stairs !

Thursday, November 16, 2006

lock 'em up

If they can't get you with one law, there's always another.....................

Tony Calland, chairman of the British Medical Association's medical ethics committee said, 'Mental health legislation cannot be used to detain people whom the authorities simply want locked away.'

However, the government are now intent on reviving the previously axed Mental Health Bill. The legislation would allow the detention of people with untreatable personality disorders - whether they've committed a criminal act or not. The draft Bill proposed that people so detained could be held for 28 days before facing a tribunal, i.e. 28 days locked away and forcibly medicated until they could formally oppose their detention.

Jane Harris, Rethink mental health charity, concluded, ' will mean people with mental health problems have fewer rights than someone suspected of burglaries.'

But there is a more disturbing aspect to this for everyone. Can those who make the diagnoses be trusted, and is it possible to safeguard against abuse of the system? If the state's procedure and practice in its execution of terror legislation is anything to go by.........we have a problem.

I'll be there - what will you be doing?

Thatcher, frail and feeble in mind and body - it can't be long now.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Truth ache

TRUTH-ACHEOn the fifth anniversary, SchNEWS gingerly dips a toe into the murky waters of the great 9-11 debate...
It’s the big fight over ‘the truth’. In the blue corner we have the US government’s official version of 9-11 events and in all the other corners we have proponents of various ‘conspiracy’ theories. But in these days of governments caught telling outright lies about WMDs etc, and a massive groundswell of cynicism about any official pronouncement - just what is a conspiracy theory? What happens when ‘common sense’ is hijacked and the fringe goes mainstream? And does it matter anyway?
The self-proclaimed 9-11 truth movement, in many ways a genuine grassroots movement (or cult?), is growing and its ideas are gradually filtering into the mainstream. No anti-war event is complete now without a new 9-11 conspiracy DVD and flyers to some new talk / book launch - and our inbox often overflows with new ‘revelations’. Every possible, and some quite impossible angles are covered - from the relatively mainstream question marks hanging over the US administration’s possible advance knowledge of the plot, to off-planet assertions about holograms, missiles and alien DNA. This kind of thing will always delight the ‘Elvis faked the moon landings with a black helicopter’ Internet crowd, but with polls showing that a third of Americans and nearly half of New Yorkers believing US officials either knew about the attacks or were actively involved, this represents a major uprising of disbelief. This has forced the US govt into producing a series of rebuttals, asserting their ‘truth’ and challenging the accusations.
The two main strands of theorising could be summed up as “they knew in advance” and “the whole thing was faked”. At the more plausible end we have the idea that the Neo-Cons had anticipated or were complicit in the events of 9-11. In any case, the event enabled them to put into practice an agenda for global domination hatched years before. It is all laid out in the year 2000 paper, ‘Rebuilding America’s Defenses’ published by the Project for a New American Century, a think-tank whose members included Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz (See SchNEWS 387). It talked about the fact that a “catastrophic and catalyzing event - a new Pearl Harbor” would be needed to transform the public’s attitude to war. Certainly there were no flies on the Cheney-Bush axis when it came to taking advantage of 9-11’s propaganda value, and even now Bush routinely invokes it as an emblem of America’s need to be militarily aggressive.
At the other end of the reality spectrum, are those that are sure that all the buildings were pre-primed with explosives, that all the Jews who worked there were given advanced warning, that the planes never existed and were in fact holograms disguising missiles etc etc. The trouble with all these theories is that they require mind-boggling numbers of people to have been ‘in on it’. It seems unlikely that the clique responsible for the disaster in Iraq could have organised something so slickly. And why would they need to go to the trouble? Two planes striking the towers would have been more than enough to serve as the big catalytic terrorist event... And if you were orchestrating the whole thing, why bother faking it with missiles or holograms anyway? Just use real planes... much simpler.
Perhaps this is why too much speculation on these points leads inevitably to a paranoiac world view where only secret cabals who control everything from behind the scenes could pull the wool over everone’s eyes in such an all-encompassing way.
The ‘truths’ arrived at by some of these theories are so way out there, we began to wonder if they’d been spread deliberately to sow confusion, making it easier for the authorities to discredit the whole 9-11 debate by association. Conspiracy on conspiracy – where does it end?
There’s no doubt that big questions about the role of the US government remain unanswered (for example, relationships with Saudi elites), but it seems they’re in danger of being drowned out by the clamour of outright lunacy.
Poster-boy of the UK branch of the 9-11 Truth movement is former MI5 agent David Shayler. An acknowledged ‘insider’, he must have seemed a great asset to the fraternity. But at the Big Green Gathering this year, SchNEWS were confronted with the spectacle of a man who appeared to have swallowed and regurgitated the entire works of David “blame the lizards” Icke. No stone was left turned, no subject demystified as Dave told us how aliens have been negotiating with our government and 500 abductees are the only people who’ve got any real idea about all this 9-11 stuff. That includes 7/7 and 11/7 (date of Mumbai bombings by the way) - all evidence of an underground plot by a ‘shadow Zionist secret government’. Amongst other interesting points conjured forth were that the Royal family is descended from multi-dimensional Annunaki lizards (and ‘flaws’ in evolutionary theory prove it!) Riveting though this stuff is, it is, unfortunately, a load of bollocks.
On the other hand, the documented existence of a shadow world of CIA mounted black-ops and coups makes the idea that 9-11 was a ‘false flag’ operation seem within the realms of possibility. American intelligence has a long and bloody history of covert operations, instigating coups and funding opposition against those that challenge their authority. Coups such as the one on the less well remembered September 11th - 1973, when the CIA helped overthrow the democratically elected leader of Chile, Salvador Allende, and usher in a brutal military dictatorship. Doubts over 9-11, the cornerstone of the US’s ideological crusade, make it easier to appreciate that it’s just all in a days work for the US to fund and arm people like Saddam and the anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan, which gave rise to Al-Qaeda.
The fact that these theories are catching on so widely is partly due to the huge growth of scepticism about the role of governments in the entire War on Terror™. In this country we already know that our government plotted the war on Iraq well in advance, lied about Iraq’s WMDs and engaged in a systematic propaganda campaign to support the invasion. We know that our government, in alliance with the US, is engaged in secret renditions, torture and aggressive war. Public awareness of the true nature of power has probably never been higher - and the fact that so many are willing to believe that the US government may have slaughtered its own citizens shows how the ideological ground is shifting. It’s not, in the end, the truth of the allegations but the effect they’re having that’s important.
The 9-11 truth movement clearly sees the anti-war crowd as fertile recruiting ground (maybe we should return the compliment). They argue that proving 9-11 a hoax should be the main focus of any faction opposing the Neo-Con-men. But in reality, whether or not 9-11 was orchestrated, we should be concentrating on the broader US-led capitalist agendas, and their catastrophic consequences. 9-11 was a symptom rather than a cause of a ‘big picture’ which doesn’t need science fiction to explain it. World power is not a neat pyramid structure with aliens, Jews or a cabal of men with a secret handshake at the top. It makes more sense to see a range of competing power blocks, alliances and cartels in a shifting, perpetual power play – with governments, nationalist and business interests doing what they’ve always done, battling for control of land, resources, workforces and populations. There is one conspiracy that doesn’t lurk in smoky rooms behind closed doors – it’s called global capitalism

The Left and The Jihad

The Left and the Jihad Fred Halliday 8 - 9 - 2006
The left was once the principal enemy of radical Islamism. So how did old enemies become new friends? Fred Halliday reports.

The approaching fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States highlights an issue much in evidence in the world today, but one that receives too little historically-informed and critical analysis: the relationship between militant Islamic groups and the left.
It is evident that the attacks, and others before and since on US and allied forces around the world, have won the Islamist groups responsible considerable sympathy far beyond the Muslim world, including among those vehemently opposed from a variety of ideological perspectives to the principal manifestations of its power. It is striking, however, that - beyond such often visceral reactions – there are signs of a far more developed and politically articulated accommodation in many parts of the world between Islamism as a political force and many groups of the left.
The latter show every indication of appearing to see some combination of al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbollah, Hamas, and (not least) Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as exemplifying a new form of international anti-imperialism that matches – even completes – their own historic project. This putative combined movement may be in the eyes of such leftist groups and intellectual trends hampered by “false consciousness”, but this does not compromise the impulse to “objectively” support or at least indulge them.
The trend is unmistakable. Thus the Venezuelan leader Hugo Ch├ívez flies to Tehran to embrace the Iranian president. London’s mayor Ken Livingstone, and the vocal Respect party member of the British parliament George Galloway, welcome the visit to the city of the Egyptian cleric (and Muslim Brotherhood figurehead) Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Many in the sectarian leftist factions (and beyond) who marched against the impending Iraq war showed no qualms about their alignment with radical Muslim organisations, one that has since spiralled from a tactical cooperation to something far more elaborated. It is fascinating to see in the publications of leftist groups and commentators, for example, how history is being rewritten and the language of political argument adjusted to (as it were) accommodate this new accommodation.
The most recent manifestation of this trend arrived during the Lebanon war of July-August 2006. The Basque country militant I witnessed who waved a yellow Hizbollah flag at the head of a protest march is only the tip of a much broader phenomenon. The London demonstrators against the war saw the flourishing of many banners announcing “we are all Hizbollah now”, and the coverage of the movement in the leftwing press was notable for its uncritical tone.
All of this is – at least to those with historical awareness, sceptical political intelligence, or merely a long memory - disturbing. This is because its effect is to reinforce one of the most pernicious and inaccurate of all political claims, and one made not by the left but by the imperialist right. It is also one that underlies the US-declared “war on terror” and the policies that have resulted from 9/11: namely, that Islamism is a movement aimed against “the west”.
This claim is a classic example of how a half-truth can be more dangerous than an outright lie. For while it is true that Islamism in its diverse political and violent guises is indeed opposed to the US, to remain there omits a deeper, crucial point: that, long before the Muslim Brotherhood, the jihadis and other Islamic militants were attacking “imperialism”, they were attacking and killing the left - and acting across Asia and Africa as the accomplices of the west.

A tortured history
The modern relationship of the left to militant Islamism dates to the immediate aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution. At that time, the Soviet leadership was promoting an “anti-imperialist” movement in Asia against the British, French and Dutch colonial empires, and did indeed see militant Muslims as at least tactical allies. For example, at the second congress of the Comintern in 1920, the Soviets showed great interest towards the Islamist group led by Tan Malaka in Indonesia; following the meeting, many delegates decamped to the Azeri capital of Baku for a “Congress of the Peoples of the East”. This event, held in an ornate opera house, became famous for its fiery appeals to the oppressed masses of Asia and included calls by Bolshevik leaders, many of them either Armenian or Jewish, for a jihad against the British.
A silent-film clip recently discovered by the Iranian historian Touraj Atabaki shows the speakers excitedly appealing to the audience who then proceed to leap up and fire their guns into the air, forcing the speakers on the platform to run for cover. One of those who attended the Baku conference was the American writer John Reed, author of the classic account of the Bolshevik revolution Ten Days That Shook the World. (On his return journey from Azerbaijan he was to die after catching typhoid from a melon he bought on the way.)
For decades afterwards, the Soviet position on Islam was that it was, if not inherently progressive, then at least capable of socialist interpretation. On visits in the 1980s to the then two communist Muslim states - the now equally-forgotten “Democratic Republic of Afghanistan” and the “People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen” - I was able to study the way in which secondary school textbooks, taught by lay teachers not clerics, treated Islam as a form of early socialism.
A verse in the Qur’an stating that “water, grass and fire are common among the people” was interpreted as an early, nomadic, form of collective means of production; while Muslim concepts of ijma’ (consensus), zakat (charitable donation), and ‘adala (justice) were interpreted in line with the dictates of the “non-capitalist” road. Jihad was obviously a form of anti-imperialist struggle. A similar alignment of Islamic tradition and modern state socialism operated in the six Muslim republics of the Soviet Union.
Such forms of affinity were in the latter part of the 20th century succeeded by a far clearer alignment of Islamist groups: against communism, socialism, liberalism and all that they stood for, not least with regard to the rights of women. In essence, Islamism - the organised political trend, owing its modern origin to the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928, that seeks to solve modern political problems by reference to Muslim texts - saw socialism in all its forms as another head of the western secular hydra; it had to be fought all the more bitterly because it had such a following in the Arab world, in Iran and in other Muslim countries.
In a similar way to other opponents of the left (notably the European fascist movements), Islamists learned and borrowed much from their secular rivals: styles of anti-imperialist rhetoric, systems of social reform, the organisation of the centralised party (a striking example of which is Hizbollah in Lebanon, a Shi’a copy in nationalist, organisational and military form of the Vietnamese Communist Party). This process has continued in the modern critique of globalisation and “cultural imperialism”.
The ferocious denunciations of “liberalism” by Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers are a straight crib from the Stalinist handbook. Osama bin Laden’s messages, albeit clad in Qur’anic and Arabic poetic garb, contain a straightforward, contemporary, radical political messages: our lands are occupied by imperialism, our rulers betray our interests, the west is robbing our resources, we are the victim of double standards.
The hostility of Islamism to leftwing movements, and the use of Islamists in the cold war to fight communism and the left, deserve careful study. A precedent was the Spanish civil war, when Francisco Franco recruited tens of thousands of Moroccan mercenaries to fight the Spanish republic, on the grounds that Catholicism and Islam had a shared enemy in communism. After 1945, this tendency became more widespread. In Egypt, up to the revolution of 1952, the communist and Islamist movements were in often violent conflict. In the 1960s, Saudi Arabia’s desire to oppose Nasser’s Egypt and Soviet influence in the middle east led it to promote the World Islamic League as an anti-socialist alliance, funded by Riyadh and backed by Washington. King Feisal of Saudi Arabia was often quoted as seeing communism as part of a global Jewish conspiracy and calling on his followers to oppose it. In Morocco, the leader of the socialist party, Oman bin Jalloun, was assassinated in 1975 by an Islamist militant.
A canvas of conflict
There are further striking cases of this backing of Islamism against the left: Turkey, Israel/Palestine, Egypt, and Algeria among them.
In Turkey in the 1970s, an unstable government beset by challenges from armed leftwing groups encouraged both the forces of the nationalist right (the “Grey Wolves”) and Islamists, and indulged the assassination of leftwing intellectuals. In Palestine, the Israeli authorities, concerned to counter the influence of al-Fatah in the West Bank in the late 1970s, granted permission for educational, charitable and other organisations (linked in large part to the Muslim Brotherhood) in ways that helped nurtured the emergence of Hamas in 1987; Israeli thus did not create Hamas, but it did facilitate its early growth. In Algeria too, factions within the ruling national-liberation movement (FLN) were in league with the underground Islamist group, the National Salvation Front; its French initials, FIS, gave rise to the observation that the FIS are le fils (“the son”) of the FLN.
In Egypt, from the death of Nasser in 1970 onwards, the regimes of Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak actively encouraged the Islamisation of society, in part against armed Islamist groups, but also to counter the influence of the socialist left. This was a project in which many formerly secular Egyptian intellectuals colluded, in an often theatrical embrace of Islam, tradition and cultural nationalism.
The trend culminated in the 1990s with a campaign to silence left and independent liberal voices: the writer Farag Fouda, who had called for the modernisation of Islam, was assassinated in 1992; Naguib Mahfouz, the Nobel prize-winning author, was stabbed and nearly killed in 1994 (allegedly for his open and flexible attitude to religion in his Cairo novels); the writer and philosopher Nasser Abu Zeid, who had dared to apply to the Qur’an and other classical Islamic texts the techniques of historical and literary criticism practised elsewhere in the world, was sent death-threats before being driven into exile in 1995.
There were even worse confrontations between Islamism and those of a socialist and secular liberal persuasion. The National Islamic Front in Sudan, a conspiratorial group that explicitly modelled itself on Leninist forms of organisation, took power in 1989 and proceeded to arrest, torture and kill members of the communist party, all this at a time when playing host to Osama bin Laden in Khartoum.
In Yemen, after the partial unification of the military north and socialist south in May 1990, the regime allowed assassins of the Islamist movement to kill dozens of socialist party members and army officers. This process precipitated the civil war of 1994, in which armed Islamist factions linked by ideology and political ties to bin Laden (most prominently the Abyan army) fought side-by-side with the regular army of the north to crush the socialist south. This was an echo of the war in Dhofar province in the neighbouring Arabian state of Oman during 1970s, when anti-communist government published propaganda by the British-officered intelligence corps denouncing the leftwing rebels for allowing men to have only one wife, and promised them four if they came over to the government side.
The politics of blood
The historical cycle of enmity reached an even greater pitch in two other countries where the anti-communist and rightwing orientation of the Islamists became clear. The first, little noticed in the context of Islamism, was the crushing of the left in Indonesia in 1965. There the independent and “anti-imperialist” regime of President Sukarno was supported by the communist party (PKI), the largest in non-communist Asia.
After a conflict within the military itself, a rightwing coup backed by the United States seized power and proceeded to crush the left. In rural Java especially, the new power was enthusiastically supported by Islamists, led by the Nahdat ul-Islam grouping. A convergence between the anti-communism of the military and the Islamists was one of the factors in the rampant orgy of killing which took the lives of up to a million people. The impact of this event was enormous, both for Indonesia itself and the balance of forces in southeast Asia at a time when the struggle in Vietnam was about to escalate.
The second country, Afghanistan, also had an outcome of great significance for the cold war as a whole. During the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, the most fanatical Islamist groups - funded by the CIA, Pakistan and the Saudis to overthrow the communist government in Kabul - were killing women teachers, bombing schools and forcing women back into the home in the areas they controlled.

Such enemies led the first leader of communist Afghanistan, Nur Mohammad Taraki, to refer to the opposition as ikhwan i shayatin (“the satanic brotherhood”, a play on “Muslim Brotherhood”). Bin Laden himself, in both his 1980s and post-1996 periods in Afghanistan, played a particularly active role not just in fighting Afghan communists, but also in killing Shi’a, who were, in the sectarian worldview of Saudi fundamentalism, seen as akin to communists. The consequences of this policy for the Arab and Muslim worlds, and for the world as a whole, were evident from the early 1990s onwards. It took the events of the clear morning of 11 September 2001 for them to penetrate into the global consciousness.The true and the false
This melancholy history must be supplemented by attention to what is actually happening in countries, or parts of countries, where Islamists are influential and gaining ground. The reactionary (the word is used advisedly) nature of much of their programme on women, free speech, the rights of gays and other minorities is evident.
There is also a mindset of anti-Jewish prejudice that is riven with racism and religious obscurantism. Only a few in the west noted what many in the Islamic world will have at once understood, that one of the most destructive missiles fired by Hizbollah into Israel bore the name “Khaibar” - not a benign reference to the pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the name of a victorious battle fought against the Jews by the Prophet Mohammad in the 7th century. Here it is worth recalling the saying of the German socialist leader Bebel, that anti-semitism is “the socialism of fools”. How many on the left are tolerant if not actively complicit in this foolery today is a painful question to ask.
The habit of categorising radical Islamist groups and their ideology as “fascist” is unnecessary as well as careless, since the many differences with that European model make the comparison redundant. It does not need slogans to understand that the Islamist programme, ideology and record are diametrically opposed to the left – that is, the left that has existed on the principles founded on and descended from classical socialism, the Enlightenment, the values of the revolutions of 1798 and 1848, and generations of experience. The modern embodiments of this left have no need of the “false consciousness” that drives so many so-called leftists into the arms of jihadis.

Friday, September 15, 2006

a million off incapacity benefit?

The latest figures for those claiming incapacity benefits is 2.7 million. This includes those in receipt of Incapacity Benefit itself (about 1.4m), ‘NI credits only’ for incapacity (1.0m) and Severe Disablement Allowance (0.3m). None of these people are in employment, but are not recorded as unemployed.

The figures also indicate that high rates of IB claimants are regional and local problems. The claimant rate in the North East, North West, Scotland and Wales is twice that of the South. In North East England one in nine working age adults are on incapacity benefits compared with less than one in twenty in the South East. In Easington, Co. Durham, more than 20% of the working age population are IB claimants. Nearly half of all claimants are over 50.

The government has stated its intention to reduce the number of incapacity claimants by one million within ten years. The report by Fothergill and Wilson asks the question 'how achievable is the Government’s target?' (A MILLION OFF INCAPACITY BENEFIT: How achievable is the Government’s target? Steve Fothergill and Ian Wilson, Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, Sheffield Hallam University). Their assessment, was carried out by projecting forward current trends to establish a ‘baseline’, and then by introducing assumptions about new trends due to the government’s proposed reforms.

The baseline projections indicated no reduction in IB claimants. IB numbers will not naturally reduce as older claimants reach pension age. Many of this older group were made redundant from coal, steel and engineering jobs during the 1980s and 1990s , and have claimed IB, perhaps, since redundancy. However, the assumption that they will disappear from IB figures once in receipt of pension overlooks the tendency for the IB stock to be renewed as younger claimants replace their older counterparts.

Therefore a natural reduction of claimants will not occur. Whether the government meets its target, or not, depends upon its policies and their implementation.

There are sufficient 'hidden unemployed' within IB claimants to achieve the one million reduction target, but because of the regional nature of high claimant patterns, the majority of the reduction would have to come from the North, Scotland and Wales. Employment growth in these regions would need to accelerate enormously.

The Pathways to Work initiative has the potential to reduce the IB total by about half a million in ten years. To reach the 'one million off' target necessitates the proposed reforms doubling the effectiveness of the Pathways to Work.

The report authors conclude that the government's target is a 'tall order.' Doubling the current impact of Pathways to Work is tough enough, but the regional nature of the perceived problem makes the target achievement extremely difficult. Unless there is sustained accelerated employment growth in the North, Scotland and Wales, any reduction in IB figures will only result in an increase in unemployment.

It is very questionable whether government policies can achieve the required acceleration in regional job growth to reach their IB reduction target.

impact of bad housing

What does bad housing mean for children? The main conclusions of the Shelter Report 'Chance of a lifetime: The impact of bad housing on children’s lives' indicates a catalogue of 'robbed' future chances - due to ill-health, educational under-achievement and insecurity.

There is a 25 per cent higher risk of severe ill-health and disability, during childhood and early adulthood.

Overcrowded housing results in a tenfold greater chance of contracting meningitis, increased risk of tuberculosis and other respiratory problems such as asthma. Consequently many of the children lose sleep, have restricted physical activity and lose out at school. Overcrowding has also been seen as to cause slow childhood growth, that later increases the risk of coronary heart disease.

50% of childhood accidents can be attributed to housing conditions. There is also a greater risk of domestic fire in poor housing.

There is also greater chance of mental health and behavioural problems.

Children who are homeless are three to four times more likely to have mental health problems than other children. Anxiety and depression are linked to overcrowded and unfit housing.

Lower educational attainment, greater likelihood of unemployment, and poverty are also projected outcomes.

School absenteeism is two to three greater in homeless children due to the disruptive lifestyle caused by a life in temporary housing. Those in unfit homes suffer greater illness and consequently often miss school. Overcrowding is linked to childhood developmental problems, and homelessness to poor communication skills. The aggression and hyperactivity exhibited by some homeless children results in low academic achievement.

Opportunities in adulthood are therefore compromised.

The resultant ill health and poor education inevitably lead to increased risk of unemployment or low-paid jobs. Leisure and recreation possibilities are lessened due to poor health and no money. Behavioural problems associated with bad housing can later become offending behaviour. According to one study, almost half of the young people who had offended, had been homeless.

The Government has pledged to end child poverty by 2020 to improve life outcomes for children in areas such as health, safety, enjoyment, achievement and economic well-being, but little attention has been paid to the impact of bad housing on children’s lives.

Currently there are more than one million children living in bad housing in England. They live in homes that are so small that there is insufficient space to sleep comfortably, to enjoy normal standards of hygiene and privacy, or even room to do their homework. They also live with the constant threat of eviction, and are repeatedly moved from one temporary home to another, with no chance of permanency or security. Many of these homes are dilapidated, damp and dangerous. The results of this housing crisis, are poverty and unequal life chances that will persist throughout the lives of the children who suffer it.

One of Shelter's proposals is that an additional 20,000 affordable social rented homes should be built each year, above and beyond existing plans. This is to address urgent housing need and to meet the target to halve the numbers of people living in temporary accommodation by 2 010. Surely this is too little too late, it would still leave half a million children living in dire housing conditions that will blight their future lives.

Something Better Change.

Ref: Chance of a lifetime
The impact of bad housing on children’s lives

Dick gets promoted after Menezes gets killed

The wages of death are promotion, at least where police assassinate some poor working class bloke going about his normal daily business.

Commander Cressida Dick is to become a deputy assistant commissioner. She was the officer in charge when officers under her control pumped seven bullets into Jean Charles' head at Stockwell London Underground station in July 2005.

In 2003, she was appointed as cross-border and organised crimes commander in the Specialist Crime Directorate. Her responsibilities included the control of the 300 officers of Operation Trident. She said, "I think it's an extremely important job. It is challenging, it's always interesting. The people I work with are really interesting and fun people to work with." Not to mention happy to slaughter any poor sap whilst testing their new 'shoot to kill' policy.

The IPCC's report is supposed to be highly critical of the surveillance operation and police control room staff, but it didn't result in any police being prosecuted over the killing. Instead the Met have been charged under health and safety laws.

During the course of the IPCC investigation, a number of police officers were served with "regulation nine" notices and interviewed under caution, including Commander Cressida Dick.

She must have had a bloody good interview to end up with a promotion rather than a murder charge!

Monday, August 21, 2006

new tattoo

I got a new tattoo whilst on holiday in Cornwall

Monday, July 31, 2006

Hezbollocks And Israbies

HezBollocks and IsRabies (26th July 2006)
A Class War Federation statement on the War in Lebanon

Class War is appalled at the carnage that is occurring in the Middle East. We are also disappointed but not surprised at what is being said about it, especially by some "progressive" organisations.

Lebanon is being turned into a grotesque war-games board as the real protagonists - The USA and Iran use their proxies to slug it out.

Neither the Israeli army nor Hezbollah give a flying fuck about 'their' civilians, except as bloody totems to hang in front of the cameras of the world's press in order to justify their own next atrocity.

The left have adopted two approaches.

Firstly, wholesale adoption of the Islamist agenda, cheerleading Hamas or Hezbollah without qualification or criticism. This 'Idiot anti-imperialism', the trademark of today's SWP, says my enemy's enemy is my friend and any criticism of them, no matter how mild, is 'racism, islamophobia, and Zionist pro American warmongering.'

The second approach is slightly more subtle - Hezbollah is fighting back, therefore we must support Hezbollah and the slogan 'we are all Hezbollah' is an act of basic solidarity with those who are fighting back against imperialism - the slogan is compared with the Parisian students who, when Danny Cohn-Bendit was attacked in the bourgeois press as a German Jew, marched through Paris chanting 'nous sommes tout les jiufs allemands!' (we are all German Jews).
This argument is crap - Hezbollah isn't a nationality or a racial epithet, it is a political party/militia, if the slogan really wanted to fit then the SWP should have handed out placards proclaiming 'WE ARE ALL SH'ITE'.

Lebanon has a radical history, albeit one distorted by the chains of Leninist communism, but this has been written out of the Brit left's history books in their rush to embrace Islamo-trottery.

A real working class alternative is desperately needed - one that recognises that there can be no peace whilst borders are drawn by reference to the Torah, and International policy is determined in Washington by consulting the Book of Revelations.

"Israelis living in Tiberuius fund the war, and contribute bodies to the war. It's not true to say they are wholly 'innocent'... "
- that quote is from an otherwise relatively sane leftist, and is a justification for every atrocity against civilians ever. It gives an idea just how much the left loses it when the question of Israel is raised.

The Israeli state oppresses the Palestinians, driving them into the hands of the fanatics of Hamas out of despair at the failure of the secular Palestinian left. In turn the suicide bombers provide for the Israeli state 'proof' of the murderous nature of the Palestinians and drives the Israeli public to support harsher and harsher measures against the 'terrorists'.

This is a self destructive spiral and must be broken.

The Israeli state is not shaken by katyushas or by suicide bombers - it is strengthened by them.

The last real challenge to the Israeli state was the Intifada, mass popular resistance on the streets of the west bank and Gaza, and amongst the 'Israeli Arab' population, this rose up from below from the streets and spread all across the middle east and north Africa as the Arab working class drew inspiration from the bravery of the Palestinian youth, and employed the same tactics to confront their own ruling classes. Inside Israel proper the intifada created real tensions within the army, as soldiers refused to be used to gun down children and sparked a massive peace movement amongst the general population.

The Oslo peace process was designed to derail the intifada and create from the PLO a police force to keep the unruly Palestinians in line.

All the arguments of the left revolve around one state/two state. All happily accept the artificial divisions created in the twentieth century by the very imperialists that they claim to oppose, and all ignore the actual people - Palestinian, Israeli, Lebanese, Druse, Syrian, Egyptian, Jordanian, Bedouin - who live there. Re-jigging the lines on a map will create new oppressions, new grievances and new horrors, and we as revolutionaries should have no part in assisting that.

We should stand shoulder to shoulder with those struggling against the oppressors of the Israeli state and the Palestinian bantustan. We fight against our 'own' rulers who attempt to use this slaughter to their own ends and use measly words 'condemning the violence' whilst writing out the receipts for the latest arms contract.

Any state solution is a continuation of the same bullshit.

No Borders
No States
No Gods
No War but the Class War

Saturday, July 22, 2006

criminal justice

Currently the police make some two million arrests each year.

In 2003-04 almost one million stop and searches were carried out.

And in England and Wales in 2004;

About quarter of a million police cautions, and nearly 64,000 penalty notices for disorder were issued,

There were more than two million prosecutions, with one and a half million convictions - usually for petty and trivial offences. The rate for television licence evasion conviction was 20 times that for sexual offences, and convictions for minor motoring offences were 18 times greater than for violence against the person,

100,000 prison sentences, 200,000 community sentences and one million fines were imposed.

The Prime Minister has stated that the criminal justice system is 'utterly useless for getting on top of 21st century crime.'

In response, the Home Secretary John Reid announced a 24-point criminal justice package designed to increase punishments and prison populations. In the face of record prison populations, 78,000 and rising, these provisions introduce a further 8,000 prison places and longer sentences. A Labour endorsement of Michael Howard's "prison works" policy.

The key question is, will these proposals reduce crime?

The Crime and Society Foundation (CSF) Report, 'Right for the wrong reasons: Making sense of criminal justice failure,' takes the view that it won't. It's main conclusions are that the reform of the criminal justice system and the reduction of crime are separate issues. Reform of criminal justice should not be confused with reducing crime. The role of the criminal justice system is to regulate certain types of crimes and criminals, not to resolve crime and make a safer society. Crime reduction demands the development of policies very different from those of the criminal justice system.

The report goes on to point out that the majority of the most serious and violent offences never end in successful conviction, and suggests that instead of attempting to increase the conviction rates, the social and economic causes of crime should be addressed. The real crime reduction challenge, it argues, does not lie within the criminal justice system, but social and economic change.

Richard Garside, the report's author, said: "Our levels of crime and victimisation reflect the way that we organise our society, not the relative toughness of our criminal justice system. The way to a safer and lower crime society lies in policies to reduce poverty, challenge sexism, and tackle concentrations of power. The criminal justice system is one of the least effective means of reducing and controlling crime."

Other reports echo the concerns relating to poverty and crime victims.

A previous CSF study revealed that the top 10% richest Britons are now 4% less likely to be murdered than in the early 1980s, but the poorest 10% are 39% more likely to end up as murder victims. It pointed to a link between rising murder rates and young men leaving school in the early 1980s, a time of mass unemployment. Stephen Dorling, the report author, said, 'The poorer the place you live in the more likely you are to be murdered. The rate of murder in Britain can be seen as a marker of social harm.'

The Institute for Public Policy Research reported that the residents of the most deprived areas are 2.5 times more likely to be mugged, and burgled than those living in the least deprived neighbourhoods. 59 per cent of children from ‘On Track’ areas were victims of crime in 2004, with more than 25 per cent of boys and 10 per cent of girls from deprived areas having been physically attacked.

The latest Home Office crime figures reinforce the link between deprivation and crime. In South Yorkshire there was a 35% rise in violent crime from 2004/5 to 2005/6 which contributed to a 16% increase in all crime. (11 of Doncaster's 23 council wards are amongst the 10% most deprived wards in the country).

The criminal justice system is geared to the construction and maintenance of social order. A government view confirmed by Jack Straw, who said that the purpose of the Home Office was to deal with ‘dysfunctional individuals – criminals, asylum seekers, people who do not wish to be subject to social control.’ Little wonder then that politicians look to criminal control mechanisms to tackle social problem, and unsurprising that they fail. It also explains why those ensnared within the criminal justice system are disproportionately from poor, marginalised and excluded populations.

As the Crime and Society Foundation report makes clear, 'if criminal justice tends to regulate rather than resolve social problems, it is likely to entrench rather than address the wider inequalities and imbalances that give rise to such problems.'

Friday, July 14, 2006

Discussing discrimination

the following two posts have been shamelessly lifted from fellow CWer pauls blog,
Following Peter Tatchell's speech (see below) there was a detailed discussion around discrimination, and in particular about how the left (and in particular the largest group on the UK left, the SWP) have tied themselves up in knots on the issue. Below I attempt to summarise debate, whilst making one or two comments of my own.
Several speakers pointed to the historical absurdity of the SWP, as a supposedly left wing organisation, getting into bed with Islamists. Maziar Behrooz has already documented the fate of the Iranian leftists who worked with Islamic organisations in Iran both pre and post the 1979 Islamic revolution - they were murdered, imprisoned or exiled as soon as the Islamists were securely in power.
A German comrade argued that the British left is too obsessed with "theories of imperialism" and so constantly finds the need to position itself according to what the US/UK governments are doing internationally. Whilst this has value, it was also pointed out that in the past the SWP's line of "Neither Washington Nor Moscow" was alot more credible than its current "Don't Attack Iran" - what is wrong, say, with "Neither Washington Nor Iran". I suspect however that my preferred line of "Neither Islam Nor Capital" would be a bit too strong for them!
Party TimeWhilst the "love-in" with Iran contradicts elements of the SWPs own history (one CPGB speaker made the point they said very different things on Iran in the early 80s to now) historically it is not particuarly perverse. The old CPGB managed to (wrongly) support the USSR and its satellites. In 1914 countless European socialists abandoned their principles to line up behind the first world war. The left is capable of huge blindspots when it comes to governments, particularly other peoples governments!
Being a CPGB meeting, several speakers took the opportunity to stress the need for a workers party, and that socialism comes through socialist organisations. Here I disagree - socialism, if it does come, will come through the working class, not political parties. This obsession with organisation and party permanently ties the CPGB to the trapeze act of constantly criticising the SWP, but wanting to be in their various fronts - Respect, Socialist Alliance etc - at the same time. Just as some people will stay in the Labour party no matter how far it moves to the right, some will forever shadow the SWP, no matter how absurd its behaviour.
Stating The Obvious? One interesting debate that flared was over censorship. Tatchell believes in using the law against those who incite violence or murder - a current concern is the lyrics of certain Jamaican musicians and their comments about killing homosexuals. He believes the state can and indeed must be pressed into protecting those who are victimised. Here both the anarchists and the CPGB members present disagreed, citing the dangers of giving the state more power. Indeed this applies to other sections of the establishment - calling on banks to shut down the BNPs bank accounts may have been a 'success', but the end result was the Alliance and Leicester also closing the Palestine Solidarity Campaign group's bank account. I do not believe the law and the state are the answers to our problems.
Debate closed about 7pm, and all still present adjourned to a nearby pub.
As an attack on Iran by the US/UK is likely, these issues will continue to be of importance. Should the US/UK decide that invading Iraq and occupying large parts of Afghanistan is quite enough for now, how we address issues around freedom of speech, using or not using the law, plus responding to repression in the Muslim world will remain as debates we must have.

Peter Tatchell On Discrimination

I used to dislike Peter Tatchell. I found him shrill and moralising, and thought "outing" counter-productive. Somewhere along the line though I changed my mind - a man who can pounce on Mike Tyson outside his gym in Memphis, denounce him as homophobic and actually convince him to state otherwise clearly has something going for him. Tatchell has principles, and actually believes in people working toghether to make the world a better place.
On 10 July I saw Tatchell speak on "Discrimination and the SWP" as part of the Marxism Fringe organised by the CPGB. Tatchell spoke for a good 45 minutes, which was followed by a similar length discussion. His basic position is that "the left" lacks any plan or strategy, and is instead reactive to events. Lacking relative, international values to unite around, single issue campaigns dominate. Traditional values have been abandoned - there has been next to no solidarity with imprisoned trades union leaders in Iran for example, yet massive worldwide agitation is being planned should the US attack or invade the Islamic republic.
The largest of the single issue campaigns recently has been the anti-war movement. Deeply unpleasant bedfellows have emerged - a representative of the Iraqi Al-Sadr Brigade spoke at the last major Stop The War Coalition march, whilst CND recently hosted the Iranian ambassador. At the SWP's Marxism 2006, the closing rally featured a speaker from the Muslim Brotherhood. The reactionary nature of all these characters can hardly be disputed - these are people and organisations with a long history of attacking trades unions, women and anyone else who does not fit into their narrow religious view of the world. Peter Tatchell sees this as opportunistic and unprincipled.
He is right.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Missed Opportunity

Parasites on Parade

Anybody unlucky enough to have turned on the Telly too early for the footie yesterday would have had to endure the spectacle of the 'celebrations' of Bett Windsors OFFICIAL* birthday
Part of the finale of this charade was the foie de joie, in which the massed ranks of the tin soldiers alternated singing the national anthem with setting off massed volleys from their automatic rifles.

Ninety soldiers, Ninety rifles, three rounds each,

One Hundred And Eighty rounds in total!
What a criminal waste

* Monarchs have birthdays like hobbits have breakfasts- one is never enough!


Sunday, June 18, 2006

thanks sir

AC Hayman CBE looking remorseful - he went on a police media training course to learn how to do it.

'Thank you for my CBE, I fully deserve it for all my police service in protecting the public, but it should have been a knighthood. And by the way, sorry for letting my trigger happy goons shoot whomsoever they feel like. But hey, what you gonna to do?'

Catch the Piglet

Ian Blair congratulates his Deputy on his award

Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, Ian Blair's right hand Mutt in charge of counter terrorism, and the man behind the police murder of Jean Charles De Menezes, and the Forest Gate fiasco has received a CBE in Betty's birthday honours list.

This is despite his distinctly sweaty appearance on the TV last week apologising to the occupants of the two houses that 250 Brave Boys in blue stormed two weeks ago in a blaze of publicity (and 9mm automatics), for "the hurt that we may have caused."

Well a bullet through the shoulder does tend to offend.

The BBC were quick to point out that the award was for Andy's handling of the 7/7 attacks, and not in any way connected to either Forest Gate or the Murder of Jean Charles, AC Hayman's part in which is still being investigated.

So having totally failed to protect Londoners from one terrorist assault, and then having gunned down one innocent on his way to work and then another in his pyjamas the man responsible is rewarded with a medal.

Is any one else reminded of Dick Dastardly's faithful sidekick Mutley and his constant hunger for medals?

Mutley, you snickering, floppy eared hound.
When courage is needed, you’re never around.
Those medals you wear on your moth-eaten chest
Should be there for bungling at which you are best.

So, stop that pigeon
Stop that pigeon (6x)
Nab him. Jab him. Tab him. Grab him.
Stop that pigeon now

Dastardly & Mutley in their Flying Machine
by Joseph Barbera & William Hanna

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The da Vinci code

Yet again, the actions of religious extremists are making headlines. Yet again, religious types are crying blasphemy. The latest mote in god’s eye is the big screen adaptation of Dan Brown’s bestselling pseudo-religious whodunit, The da Vinci code. Even the usually mild-mannered archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has joined in, using his easter sunday sermon as a platform to condemn the book and the film for encouraging people to treat christianity as “a series of conspiracies and cover-ups.” While the church of england is able only to utter a fairly meek squeak of indignation, elsewhere in the world protests have been far more vociferous. There have been prayer vigils outside cinemas, two councillors in Italy publicly burnt copies of the book and various spokesmen from the Vatican itself have condemned it, with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone describing it as “a sack full of lies.” Dan Brown is no doubt thankful that christians no longer burn heretics, and is no doubt equally grateful for the effect that all this free publicity will be having on his bank balance. The popularity of the book, which sold 60 million copies, always guaranteed that the film would make money, but, thanks to the faithful keeping the controversy going, The da Vinci code took a whopping £119 million at box offices on its opening weekend.

Frankly, finding out what the controversy is all about is just about the only reason to go and see the film. The da Vinci code clocks in at a bum-numbing 2 hours and 50 minutes long and is really rather tedious throughout. I found the experience akin to being stuck listening to someone who thinks that they are far more intelligent and interesting than they actually are, and is desperate for you to share their inflated opinion of themselves.

The plot itself is fairly standard fare. A man is murdered to protect a secret, and the protagonists get caught up trying to find out who murdered him and what secret he was protecting. In keeping with the worst examples of the genre, the murder victim manages to leave a series of elaborate riddles, while he is bleeding to death, for his granddaughter, played by Audrey Tautou and a expert in ‘symbology’ played by Tom Hanks, to solve. Credibility is tortured still further by a series of plot twists which are alternately so predictable you can see them a mile off, or so implausible that they qualify as deus ex machina.

Equally disappointing is the sheer amount of squandered talent. Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard have both made their fair share of stodgy films, but it takes a special knack to create such a lasklustre film featuring beautiful backdrops in Paris and London and starring the luminous Audrey Tautou, and the equally talented Jean Reno and Albert Molino. Even proficient performances by Paul Bettany as a sinister albino monk and an eccentric, camp, english knight played by eccentric, camp, english knight, Sir Ian McKellen, fail to rescue the film.

Of course, the popularity of the film and the book is arguably less to do with its artistic merit and more to do with the ‘controversial’ ideas contained within. I am sure I will not be spoiling the plot for those who have not yet discovered the joys of Dan Brown if I reveal that the central conceit is that Jesus married Mary Magdelene and had children, and that this secret has been protected by the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar, who are opposed by the (real world) ultra-orthodox catholic sect Opus Dei who wish to wipe out all traces of this heresy. The clues are apparently all there in the works of Leonardo da Vinci (sigh).

Conspiracy theories are always popular, and the catholic church is a particularly fertile topic for conspiracy theorists: it is incredibly powerful, authoritarian and secretive, and through its reactionary dogma and the actions of some of its followers it has managed to upset an awful lot of people over the years. Iconoclasm and blasphemy are usually both fun and worthwhile, but The da Vinci code’s attacks on the catholic church seem rather clumsy. Not that it does not deserve it, but criticising catholicism for being a bit dodgy is rather like criticising George Bush for being a bit of an idiot: far too easy to be overly entertaining or subversive. The conspiracy theories that Dan Brown has reheated and served up as pop-fiction have been around for a very long time and frankly, are getting tired, not least because since the book of The da Vinci code was released in 2003 there has been an overabundance of related books and television and radio programmes that have jumped on the bandwagon. The appetite of a significant number of people for this fairly uninspiring conspiracy theory seems undiminished though.

The various church leaders that have got themselves in a tizzy over The da Vinci code seem to think that its popularity is indicative of the waning influence of christianity.
More than one commentator has quoted G K Chesterton’s adage that “once people stop believing in god, they do not believe in nothing, they believe in anything.” The sentiment expressed is an arrogant underestimation of the credulity of non-believers, with the subtext that we would all be better off believing what we are told to believe. However, it is true that while, certainly in western europe, the influence of organised religion is on the decline, the reasons behind religious belief remain and simply find new expressions. We are still products of an irrational society, and one which is confusing and where we as individuals have very little power. This is fertile breeding ground for belief structures that reassure us by offering a neatly packaged version of reality and meaning to subscribe to. Conventional religions such as christianity have not been able to evolve quick enough to continue to meet our needs as society has evolved, and so people turn to alternatives, whether it is a pick and mix approach to spirituality, incorporating aliens, or ghosts or crystals, or belief in conspiracy theories, or any number of other options. None of us is entirely immune to this impulse towards irrational beliefs, because we are all products of this irrational society. The left for example is certainly not immune to influences of the tinfoil hat brigade. There are those who consider themselves part of the left who believe that 9-11 was an inside job, or that the jewish community controls the world. The cpgb has itself routinely been the target of various rumours, some of which have the potential to be deeply harmful if anyone believes the deluded individuals that promote them. This is not to say that all fans of Dan Brown believe the conspiracy theories contained in his books, because undoubtedly most do not, but the attraction of such beliefs does perhaps suggest a part of the appeal of The da Vinci code.

There is then a certain irony that the key participants in the controversy over The da Vinci code are both promoting irrational beliefs while criticising their ideological rivals for their irrationality. Personally the person I feel sorriest for, more so even than myself for having to sit through the film, is Leonardo da Vinci. All reliable evidence would suggest that da Vinci was a man who, far from being part of a superstitious and clandestine sect, was an exemplar of the rigorous and enquiring approach that is the source of rationality.

An edited version of this review can also be read in the communist party of great britain's paper, the weekly worker, which is available online at:

Dr Who

BBC1, Saturday May 13 Doctor who: rise of the cybermen
BBC1, Saturday May 20 Doctor who: the age of steel

Five episodes in to the second series of the new Doctor who, and it is still going from strength to strength. The series is consistently pulling in viewing figures of over 7 million, the cybermen are on the front cover of the Radio times and reviews of each episode have become a staple fixture in every newspaper and magazine from the Times to the News of the world (whose reviewer Ian Hyland offers the incisive criticism that the cybermen are “a bit gay”). Most significantly, the show has become an accepted topic of conversation in pubs, workplaces and school playgrounds. The shows success is a pleasant surprise. Although I was never much of a whovian (I was rather young when the show was cancelled in 1989, when it was already somewhat tired after having run for 35 years); I proudly self-identify as a geek (geekhood being defined as much by avid consumption of sci-fi, fantasy and comics as it is by the mild social exclusion that invariably accompanies said pursuits). Yet the past few years have seen an upsurge in the acceptability of a genre that has traditionally been the purview of social misfits. The best indicator of geekiness having become cool will surely come when Tony Blair announces that when he wasn’t watching Newcastle united, he spent his childhood playing Dungeons & dragons.

Part of the reason for Doctor who’s popularity is that the show is very good. Gone are the days of papier mache monsters, abandoned quarries doubling as alien landscapes, lacklustre plots and miserly and unsympathetic executives. The beeb have invested a lot in the new series, reflected not only in the higher standard of special effects, but also in the quality of the writing and acting. The man who deserves much of the credit is Russell T Davies, who is who’s producer and sometime writer. Davies was behind the groundbreaking Queer as folk, the controversial The second coming (which starred ninth doctor Christopher Ecclestone) and Casanova (starring the current, tenth doctor David Tennant). Davies is an inspired choice to head the project. He has been bold enough to take the series into new territory, such as the inclusion of the bisexual Captain Jack in the last series, leading to the first same-sex kiss in the series’ history and has openly considered having a woman play the next doctor. It is almost a shame that Mary Whitehouse, who repeatedly criticised the much tamer Doctor who of yesteryear, is not around to express her puritanical indignation at the new series. Yet at the same time, Davies has managed to create a show suitable for all the family, secured the adoration of old fans and introduced a whole new audience to the Doctor who experience. And, while exploring different directions, the new version of the show demonstrates a genuine affection for the earlier series. This is no doubt helped by the fact that many of the cast and crew, including the current doctor, David Tenant, were fans when they were children.

Another reason for the show’s success is, as I’ve written, that science-fiction is very much part of the zeitgeist. Although the popularity and the quality of the genre has ebbed and flowed over the years, it has always had an immense inherent potential for creativity. Freed from the constraints of trying to reflect mundane reality, sci-fi provides both the possibility of escapism and the possibility of exploring very real issues from a different perspective.

Doctor who is no exception: while it can of course be enjoyed as thrilling adventure yarn set against a backdrop of exotic locations and alien races, it has always explored deeper issues as well. This is done both overtly (the daleks in the last series were recast as religious fundamentalists) and also more thoughtfully. In the current series there has been a recurrent theme exploring lost love and past relationships. The doctor with his unnaturally long life has left a lot of people behind. In School reunion we saw him meet up with Sarah Jane, a former companion and his robotic dog K9, with his current companion Rose realising that she too will be left behind in time, and in The girl in the fireplace the doctor falls in love with a woman who he meets at points throughout her life, who lives and dies in the course of the episode.

The series as a whole is a rich source for analysis. One particularly contemporary theme present in Doctor who is that of the concept of britishness. Doctor who, both the series and the character, is of course a quintessentially british creation. By way of comparison sci-fi produced in the US is often big-budget and overtly militaristic, it presents simplistic morality and its protagonists are often professional, square-jawed heroes. Doctor who, and british sci-fi more generally, however emphasises individuality and amateurism. Part of the appeal of the series is that it is somewhat kitsch and self-deprecating. The doctor blunders from one adventure to the next. He constantly meddles in the machinations of tyrants who would crush the rebellious individuality that he represents, and triumphs through a combination of luck and wit. The doctor is in the mold of the gentleman adventurer, the explorer, the eccentric, the visionary. It is of course no less of a mythological creation than that of britishness being synonymous with the suave killer that is James Bond or the jingoistic thuggishness promoted by the BNP, but it is a far more progressive national stereotype.

The latest rip-roaring episode, Rise of the cybermen ended on a cliffhanger. The doctor has crash-landed in an alternative Britain, where would-be dictator John Lumic (played by left-winger Roger Lloyd-Pack, best known as Trigger in Only fools and horses) has created the cybermen in a bid to take over the country (bwa-ha-ha). The cybermen have been made out of homeless people who were lured to their doom by the promise of food, and stripped of their humanity and plated in steel. As the episode ended the doctor and his companions are surrounded by the menacing cyborgs. Tune in to the next episode, The age of steel, to see if he can escape and foil their nefarious scheme!

An edited version of this review can also be read in the communist party of great britain's paper, the weekly worker, which is available online at:

Friday, May 26, 2006

clutching at straws?

New Labour open a One Stop Help Shop for Home Secretary John Reid

Saturday, May 20, 2006

vote typhoid mary

The BBC2 programme, the 'Great British Menu,' has the UK's top chefs battling it out regionally to win the right to cook a dish for the Queen's 80th birthday. I propose a late entrant for this dubious honour - the ghost of Typhoid Mary. Mary was a much maligned and persecuted character, but could do great service if she won this competition.

The Queen will celebrate her 'official' 80th birthday with the special lunch on the 17th June. A public poll will decide who does the cooking, so make your vote count, vote Typhoid Mary.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

escape from kathmandu

This is the story of Hobgoblin Rae's Nepal experience.

For the past two months I have been living and working in Katmandu as a voluntary English teacher. Since the recent civil unrest made the UK news, the left has been falling over itself to offer criticism of the bumpy path to democracy in Nepal, and the maoist movement in particular. That’s not what I want to do, all I want to do is tell the story of what we saw. You can then make up your own mind.

Even before King Birendra and his close family were killed Nepal had a history of civil unrest and had trod a rocky path towards bourgeois democracy. With the ascension of Gyanendra and an escalation of the maoist campaign things have got progressively worse. Gyanendra, having ruled once before during his grandfathers exile is now the eleventh successor to Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of modern Nepal. Legend has it that the Shah dynasty will last only ten generations. Perhaps its time has come.

Before the Seven Party Alliance called the four day strike due to begin on 6th April 2006 we had become accustomed to the small scale strikes and roadblocks that pepper life in Nepal. Although inconvenient, the four day strike would give us opportunities to relax a little, catch up on some work and read all those books we’d never got around to. During the first few days there was virtually no traffic on the streets but people were moving freely around we saw a few taxis with their number plates removed. By the third day a curfew has been imposed by the Palace, and it turned out days one and two hadn’t been as quiet as we’d previously thought. We sat down with the Nepalese students we live with and watched the local news, it was full of reports of rioting all over the city, even down the road from us. The first protester has been shot dead by police and his body is shown on the television, images like this only serve to fuel peoples hatred of the king and the police.

Until day four we hadn’t really been able to leave our hostel, we shouldn’t have been able to today either as the curfew (now ‘shoot on sight’) was still in force. However, I had become very sick and needed to be taken to hospital, we drove through streets deserted except for tanks and burning tyres. From the rocks and bricks littering the road is was clear a riot had passed this way. We became trapped inside the hospital by a pitch battle waged between protesters and armed police outside. Despite using tear gas the police were eventually driven back. Having been suitably patched up we needed to get back to our hostel, and to safety. It would have been suicide to try to walk the three miles back so our only option was to accept a lift with the army. Crammed in the back of a jeep with armed men I questioned our choice, we had felt unsafe coming in by ambulance and now we were leaving in the vehicle of the enemy. Foreigners have occupied a strange position of privilege in Nepal for a long while, both sides fear the withdraw of tourists and tourist money. Today showed that it is impossible to remain neutral, even as foreigners we have to pick sides or they will be picked for us.

The curfews and responding riots continue through days five and six. Each morning the curfew hours are announced on the television, people then dash out to buy supplies before it comes into force. Food is running low as nothing can get into the city. We hear from our fellow volunteers working in a hospital in Banepa that gun shot victims are being brought in and that judging by the damage done, the police are not using rubber bullets like they claim to be. In Nepal, as perhaps the rest of the world, the police force is made up of poorly educated men and women subjected to a culture of violence. To the cynical eye they seem to be enjoying indiscriminately beating people.

For the next few days we are able to move a little and so head into Thamel, the tourist district of Katmandu. As the BBC says, Thamel is where tourists go to avoid politics. Walking around the police-free streets you can understand why, the shops are shut yes but the restaurants are open and showing no sign of the crippling food shortages affecting the rest of the city. However, by the following day, politics had found it’s way into Thamel by means of a heavily publicized tourist demonstration. Until this point the demonstrations had been organized by the Nepalese people with the aim of self-determination, now tourists were putting their oar in. I can’t know for sure the motivation of those who joined in but I know why I didn’t. This fight belongs to the Nepalese people, it is their country and their vision of democracy. I have no right to join their struggle unless invited, I choose to express solidarity with the views of the people I meet but to demonstrate is to demonstrate on their behalf. Instead I chose to see my role as witness, to come home and tell of the police brutality I had witnessed and of the pride and courage of the people. Several tourists are arrested and with the police breaching Thamel our status as privileged white foreigners is quite rightly shattered.

Day twelve brings a change in Thamel, the shop shutters are no longer coming down because the shop keepers are afraid of an impending demonstration but because, we realize, they are going to join in. During the morning three fellow volunteers and I are in the wrong place at the wrong time and become caught in a riot. Separated by the police charge they are caught in a stampede while I end up on the wrong end of a lathi (three foot wooden police baton). After running from the police I’m given shelter by a local hotel until the streets are quiet again. Within moments I have witnessed terrible brutality by the police and the kindness of strangers. After this it is very difficult to feel safe anymore, the policeman who hit me was fully aware that I was a white woman running away, he’d looked me in the eye. The following days bring further curfews and so much more violence. It is still however, the police and not the army committing most of the acts of aggression.

On day sixteen we watch the kings speech with some Nepalese friends and aside from the language barrier its hard to work out if they are happy or not. It quickly becomes clear that those still on the streets are not satisfied with the response. The king has offered the people virtually nothing, much less than he had originally taken away. It looks as if the struggle for democracy will continue and that the violence, curfews and shortages haven’t dampened the people’s desire for change. In the following days the mass action escalates, crowds flood the ring road and march into the city centre. Most main roads are filled with waves of men, women and children. They are risking their lives by defying curfew but they still look so happy. It’s hard to imagine a similar situation in the UK.

Eventually I had to leave Nepal, we didn’t know how long things would carry on and with impending fuel shortages if I didn’t leave then I might not have got out for a long while. As it happened on day twenty the king announced further concessions to the SPA and the maoists and allowed parliament to sit again.

It’s hard to know where things will go from here, the previous problems of corruption still dog the government and the king retains all the same powers that allowed him to seize control on 1st February 2005. All I can hope for is that the ordinary people who mobilized in the last few weeks will revel in their new found sense of autonomy. At times it was unclear as to who was calling the demonstrations and getting people onto the streets, was it the maoists or the SPA. Other times, towards then end it was clear that these were spontaneous demonstrations, without leaders and without political dogma. And why am I not advocating the push towards socialism or communism? Because thats not what the people of Nepal seem to want. Instead I wish them all the best in their ongoing struggle for democracy and once they get that, then we can all sit down as comrades and plan where we go together from here.

Thanks for this article must go to David, Robin and Sarah.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

persistent poverty

The Joseph Rowntree foundation has recently produced a study report that shows that persistent poverty (poverty is defined as a family income below 60% of the median income) in Britain is on the increase.

There are approximately 3.5 million children living in poverty in Britain today. That's more than a quarter of the total child population.

Why is this so important? Apart from the obvious effects of deprivation for those children, this poverty has every chance of persisting throughout their lives, and later being passed on to their own children. Childhood poverty experience leads to adult poverty, which in turn affects future generations.

The study looked at two groups of teenagers, one from the 1970s, and one from the 1980s. The purpose was to research the link between childhood and adult poverty, and to discover if this link is getting weaker or stronger. Its findings relegate the notion of social mobility in Britain to the waste bin.

Almost 20% of 1970s teenagers from poor families were found to have grown up to be poor in later life, whilst only 10% of the non-poor teenagers had this outcome. Poor teenagers from that decade had twice the chance of staying poor throughout their life than teenagers from non-poor families. This effect has been ascribed to general background disadvantages such as parental unemployment and poor education, rather being directly attributable to poverty itself.

The results for the 1980s poor teenagers were significantly worse. This group were found to be four times as likely to remain in poverty throughout their lives. A doubling of the persistence of poverty link from the previous decade. The increasing risk has been attributed to the direct effect of poverty for 1980s teenagers. Their own adult unemployment rather than the more general family factors of the 1970s group.

There is considerable difficulty in identifying specifically the cause of persistent poverty from the numerous factors involved, but income poverty is clearly tied up with deprivation in its many guises. However, unemployment, for self and/or partner, and having a poor work history seem to be the strongest factors, and it is their direct effect that caused the massive increase in the chance of persistent poverty for the 1980s teenagers.

Although not specifically mentioned in the report, the results clearly indicate the effects of the Thatcher years in increasing persistent poverty. The 1980s teenagers first employment opportunities were blighted by unemployment which was at its highest since WWII, peaking in 1984 to more than 3 million. During this decade the richest 10% of the population more than doubled their disposable income, whilst the poorest saw little or no increase in theirs.

The concise conclusion of the report is that there is a clear link between childhood poverty and poverty in later life, and this link is becoming increasingly stronger.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Blair's Enforcer's

Coming to a city, town or village near you, Blair's half SS Squad.

Defence Secretary John Reid has announced the establishment of a counter terrorist elite force.

The Special Forces Support Group (SFSG). Its insignia, a dagger run through by a lightning flash, looks unsurprisingly similar to half an SS double lightning flash.

Jackboots anyone?

Monday, April 17, 2006

power to the people?

A Comment on Power to the People, the report of the Power Inquiry

Power is an independent inquiry into Britain's democracy established and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd. It was set up to determine why British people have become increasingly disengaged from formal democratic politics, and how to reverse this trend. It set about resolving three main issues;

The survival of Britain's democracy when politicians are perceived to be uncaring and unlistening.

The revival of politics when party political support is diminishing.

Increasing voter turnout despite the common feeling that elections are a charade.

It is, to all intents and purposes, a report that attempts to formulate the revival of the legitimacy of the status quo, not to revolutionise the distribution of political power. They state, 'The British parliamentary system of elected representation and considerable executive power was built in an era of very limited educational provision and in which deference and rigid hierarchy and static social relations were taken for granted. This explains why so many British citizens now no longer feel formal democracy offers them the influence, equality and respect they believe is their due.'

The power commissioners want us to become re-engaged with formal democracy. They feel this would;

Give legitimacy to government. Decreasing electorate turnout weakens the mandate of the elected party. In the last election, more people refrained from voting than voted Labour. And the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who rules by virtual presidential power, only received some 24,000 votes himself.

Improve political equality. Many people feel totally disenfranchised, their views are not represented.

Improve effective communication between the governed and the governors. Actually when I have bothered to vote in the past I've voted to be represented, not governed - a naive disappointment. Representation does not occur, which in turn leads to being disenfranchised.

Improve the calibre of political recruit.

Prevent the rise undemocratic forces.

Prevent governmental authoritarianism.

However, for all this pro-governmental tosh, it did come up with some interesting reasons for Britain's mainstream political malaise.

Contrary to the assumptions of political analysts, the public are not apathetic. There is massive involvement in pressure politics, e.g. signing petitions, supporting consumer boycotts, and joining campaign groups. It's formal politics that turn people off. Electorate turnout has declined for general elections since 1997, and has been low for other elections for many years. Political party membership is diminishing, and MPs, MEPs and councillors are distrusted.

People are not sick of formal British politics because they are apathetic, negative or inadequate human beings. They feel that the they are ignored and powerless, and that party politics restricts their options.

British parliamentary democracy doesn't work, other than to advance corporate exploitation. The ballot box offered by parliamentarians in any guise is no means for change. The reinvigoration of the status quo, as recommended in the Power Report, is not going to work, other than to delude the electorate.

Time for riot and revolution?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

may day doncaster

Monday 1st MAY

80 th Anniversary Commemoration of the Miners Lock-out and General Strike

The Woolpack Pub, Market Place, Doncaster.


Film: The Miners Film (Cinema Action)

Presentation: The bitter lock-out, Days of hope in the General Strike, and the betrayal by the TUC. David Douglass, National Union Mineworkers.

Debate and discussion.

Folk Music Social: with Toe'in'the Dark.

Organised by Mining Communities Advice Service in conjunction with The Doncaster Miners, The Industrial Workers of The World (IWW) and
Doncaster Class War

Saturday, April 01, 2006

mp's pensions

The MP's pension fund deficit currently stands at £49.5m having risen from £25.2m in 2002, and the taxpayer will pay the cost of this shortfall.

It has just been announced that contributions from public finance to this fund will rise from 24% to 26.8% to cover the deficit. Taxpayer contributions to the MP's pension fund is already more than four times the amount that currently goes into the average worker's fund.

This announcement quickly follows that on MP pay rises. An MP's salary will rise to £60,277 from £59,095, Cabinet ministers' to £136,677 from £133,997, and the prime minister's to £187,610 from £183,932.

This means that an MP, who is paid £60,277, and retires after 26 years service will receive an inflation proof £40,000 per year.

It is, however, a contributory pension. MP's will now have to contribute 10% of pre tax income for 26 years to receive this pension which is calculated as 26/40ths of final salary. They can elect to pay a reduced rate of 6% per annum, but in this case will receive 26/50th of final salary. This is in comparison with the local government worker who contributes 6% of pre tax income for 40 years to receive a pension calculated as 40/80ths of final salary.

In their fight with the unions, the government seem happy to infer that all local government workers retire at 60 on full pension. In reality the average retirement age is 64.5 years. Of those who retire early, 22% are forced to retire due to ill health. The average pension received is only £3,600, and for women this drops to £1,500. This average is more than 10 times less than an MP, and up to 100 times less than a CBI director.

The '85' rule that is currently at the centre of the public sector pension dispute does not apply to MPs. Instead they have the more favourable '80' rule. This means that they can retire on full pension at 60 years of age if their age and service years total 80 or more. This is a strange situation, since the main argument against the '85' rule is that it fails to comply with age discrimination legislation, however this does not appear to apply where MPs are concerned.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

class war leaflet for the 18th march stop the war demo

Victory to the Iraqi workers!
Down with the 'resistance'!
The war in Iraq shows no sign of ending. Whilst Bush and Blair gear up for a further bloody assault, this time on Iran’s ‘Mad Mullahs’ (a war that will be paid for in the blood of thousands of ordinary working class people, Iranian and American), the ordinary people of Iraq are the bloody playthings of western generals and religious maniacs.
There is no answer for the workers of Iraq from the Fundamentalists and nationalists of the ‘Resistance’ who butcher men, women and children in the name of ‘allah’ or ‘nation’.
Neither does the puppets that dance Bush’s tune in the palaces of Baghdad offer any solution for the people of Iraq- there can be no free workers movement under the bayonets of the United States Marine Corps.
The Working Class has no country! The main enemy is always at home!
The war abroad is mirrored with the war at home. The cops who murdered Jean Charles De Menezes are still out there, guns in hand, waiting for the next poor lad to walk into their sights, meanwhile the tube workers who risked their lives to save those caught in the 7/7 bombings are forced to strike to defend safety whilst the bosses and the press drag their names through the mud.
The so-called left in Britain, who lead the STWC, hide their timidity at home with their bloodthirstiness abroad, giving full support to the religious maniacs and Ba’athist (pro Saddam) fascists that dominate the ‘resistance’ in Iraq. In doing so they reveal their contempt for the Iraqi working class in its struggle to emerge from both Saddam’s dictatorship and US occupation. Here they show their contempt for us too; for the British working class, the answer is ‘Pussy’ George Galloway, for the Iraqi working class it’s a Jihadist suicide bomb.
It is no solution to cheer the killing of US and UK working class youth who have been fooled into joining up. Stupidity and poverty are not deserving of a death sentence! We want those kids home where the real war is….. the class war